09/05/2012 04:04 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST

Want to Volunteer? Here's Where to Start


It takes a lot of hard work to build and sustain a charitable organization. Ask anyone who's ever tried and they'll tell you that volunteers are the backbone of a non-profit and are essential to its success. They are the people who selflessly donate their time and skills for the betterment of an organization, their community and often themselves.

With a revival in volunteerism in recent years, the good deeds previously reserved for an older generation are now being tackled by volunteers of all ages, often for short-term commitments or single day events, much like at our charity, the Ride for Karen.

Local volunteer efforts can have a tremendous impact on the community in which they are conducted such as raising social capital. When individuals and groups make a collective effort to come together, their actions not only improve that neighbourhood, they also foster relationships that in turn, build a stronger community.

We hear many volunteers claim that they are the ones who feel they have benefitted from being philanthropic and how enriching of an experience it has been. When people donate their time, they get to see the difference their efforts have made first-hand, which gives an enormous sense of purpose and self-confidence. Volunteering also helps with personal development and skill-building such as the ability to work alongside others to reach a common goal.

Now entering its 11th year, the Ride for Karen is fueled by its volunteers. We have been able to stay true to the grassroots organization we created over a decade ago thanks to our incredibly dedicated, strong volunteer network. They help with everything from registration and police escorts to face painting and cookie baking. Without the countless hours of help from our volunteers and support from sponsors like Scotiabank, we wouldn't be able to give all money raised at the Ride for Karen to help kids with cancer.

While it may seem difficult to find the extra time to donate to a worthy cause, lending a hand doesn't have to eat into your busy schedule, and helping out can be easier than you think.

If you are reading this post, you probably already have a cause, or causes that are important to you. For us, it was about supporting people living with cancer. And, because we love to ride bikes, creating a cycling fundraiser was a natural fit. But, you don't need to create an organization in order to volunteer. A good Internet search of the causes you are interested in will show you the organizations in your area supporting the causes you care about. You can also visit or contact organizations like Imagine Canada which has a database of charities or Volunteer Canada which provides information on how to find the right volunteer opportunity for you.

Think about the skills and experience you can bring to a charity based on the work you do every day. For us at the Ride for Karen, my brother and I split the management of the event between operations (my skill set) and marketing/sponsorship (his skill set). You can visit which helps match people with organizations based on their interests and skills and, if you are looking to become part of a charity's management structure, Board Match helps to place qualified volunteers on charities' boards of directors.

Whatever you choose, make a commitment to start today. There is no shortage of organizations in Canada in need of help from volunteers.

*Kris Tobias is the co-founder of the Ride for Karen, an annual cycling event, held in tribute to the life and legacy of Karen Tobias that raises money to support people living with cancer. Ride for Karen takes place on Sept. 9th. Visit for more details and come ride with us!